Austin Living: Community Jewel
Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2023
YMCA at the Austin Community Recreation Center dedicated to fitness and being a center for community
February 2020 had been a long time coming. The work leading up to the newly constructed YMCA at the Austin Community Recreation Center had been born in the Vision 2020 initiative and after years of work had finally become reality.
When the doors finally opened on Feb. 3, there was a surge of interest, even if the COVID-19 pandemic was looming in the shadows. But on March 17, just a month over having first opened, the inevitable came into play — the YMCA had to shut back down.
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“When we opened that first month we were killing it,” said Director and CEO Diane Baker. “We were busy, there were so many things going on and such an abrupt shutdown. We opened again in June and then you’re kind of rebuilding and hitting your stride and they shut us down again in November and then we opened again in January of 2021.”
The herky-jerky nature of the YMCA’s first months of opening was hard on the building and its mechanicals, but it was also hard on the facility as a whole. Any momentum gained in those first few days was lost over time as the YMCA sought to cope with the up and down nature the pandemic imposed.
“We have literally reinvented everything we do, including the staff,” Baker said. “Pre-COVID you’re booming, then everything shuts down, then everything changes and now we’re finally, I would say, just now getting to the point where we’re comfortable with our staffing. They’re well trained, we have processes in place for most everything we do. It’s been a long road getting there.”
What never changed though, what remained a steady goal was to provide the public with accessibility to everything the YMCA offered. To ensure that not only the members had access to the building and everything it offered.
Guiding this was the underlying goal of inclusion.
“Because what was going on in here looked exactly like what our community is,” Baker said. “It was amazing.”
“The track, the programming, the pools, the spaces where people could come in the winter and bring their kids as a family,” Baker added. “The minute we opened, all of those spaces became occupied and felt accessible to people.”
The excitement of initial opening transferred to the employees, who have all added their own will to the success of the facility and in a lot of ways have become avatars for the building itself.
It is a welcoming place with a warmth generated by the employees for making sure the goals of inclusion are met every day.
Not that there weren’t some residuals from the old building.
“It’s hard because you come from an old facility where people have those expectations and you move over here and it’s something completely different,” Baker said. “You can’t describe that to your staff. You can’t really train that until you get here. This is a whole different world over here. We’ve got to up our game. What can we do?”
That’s where the building’s opportunities came into focus, because as Baker explained: “Our opportunities are endless.”
The goal initially was to offer the core offerings really well, which provided people a familiarity when coming to the new building. But has time has progressed, the YMCA has expanded into more of what people envisioned it could be.
COVID played a part in that, but now Baker and the rest of the YMCA are seeing a building returning to where it was meant to be.
“I think everybody is finally seeing now that those opportunities exist and it’s up to us to really kind of push that envelope,” Baker said. “I would say from a leadership team perspective, we’ve been taking it slow because we had to continue to build the infrastructure, rebuild staff, and retrain processes.”
“We’re starting to do those things we haven’t done before,” she added.
As the YMCA found its footing in recent years, it has been able to add those newer items, including new classes and new activities. Some of those new offerings include floor hockey and soccer programs.
The swimming program has been highly successful now that it has an aquatics instructor and swimming lessons have been very popular. Alongside that the Special Olympics makes use of the two pools once a week.
At the same time, the YMCA is taking the chance to make sure the community is involved in what happens at the facility while also making sure the community also knows where the YMCA is coming from.
Aside from a comment box, the YMCA has also hosted forums where people are able to provide input and ask questions of YMCA staff.
“We want to know what are you looking for, why do you want it?” Baker said. “Here’s where we are.”
People can expect more of this in the future, Baker said. This will also include opportunities for collaboration within the community, which will feature more training opportunities for the public.
Training is expected to include CPR training, lifeguard training and more.
“We’re offering more on a professional level for our community safety training and that feels really good,” Baker said. “We’re filling that gap and that is essential.”
At the end of the day, the YMCA at the ACRC is a reflection of Austin and everything that is a part of Austin.
That is not only from the offerings, but from the employees and a community that is open to the new and the old and it will continue to follow that track of pressing forward, opening users to new experiences and continuing to strengthen old offerings.
“We have a really good mix of things that build our revenue, but we can also offer to the community what is free and a need,” Baker said. “It’s just really making sure people understand, it’s more than a gym. We serve everyone. This is a place for everyone.”